There is a postcard on my fridge. A bright image of a glossy paella, possibly made of plastic. Large prawns are arranged in a dancing ring on a background of sunshine yellow rice. The words ‘Paella Valenciana!’ are written in a dodgy typeface across the bottom and it’s the exclamation mark that really does it for me. Such surprise and delight at the idea of this typical holiday cuisine! I love this postcard, it reminds me of my favourite Spanish city, cycling through the sunken park and drinking tumblers of cava on the shabby promenade.
In this age of social media and endless streams of unedited images, people love receiving postcards precisely because they are not instant. Someone you know has browsed the selection in the rack and pulled out their choice based on what they know floats your boat. Then they sat and scribbled their dedicated message in ink. Magic happens during this time taken to think of you – it’s what gives the postcard its chummy charm.
The first souvenir postcard appeared at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, and a year later the Royal Mail allowed picture postcards in the UK. Thereafter, more and more people sent postcards to share a bit of their holiday with those back home. From saucy seaside scenes to impossibly exotic representations of far-off climes, the postcard packed so much into such a small form.
Unlike the mysterious letter or coy, enveloped greeting card, the mailed postcard has nothing to hide. It shows off the artwork in its front window with pride, and anyone is welcome to read the affectionately scrawled sentiments on the reverse. This may include bored postmen, or curious visitors examining the contents of your mantelpiece while you are out of the room.
As we’ve seen in other blog posts, the power of print postcards has been hijacked by marketeers who want to get their product seen. Get the image or concept right, and it may even get an extended shelf life on the pin board or attached to the fridge with magnets. And so many artists and galleries turn to postcard printers to distil the essence of their inspired works onto A6 pieces of card, so that everyone can become an art collector.
Now that we are all swimming in images taken on our phones, postcard printing has become a great way of stopping prized snaps from slipping away into that alternate dimension of unseen digital pics. There’s nothing that will pep up Aunty Mary’s afternoon like a surprise baby pic in the post (she’s not on Facebook, you know).
It’s comforting to know that the weight of the card, the mail stamp and smudged, inky scrawl will always hold a place in our hearts. But we say the postcard is not just holding its own in the digital world through nostalgia, but adapting to thrive as a pictorial super-medium. It has the charm and lasting appeal to see off fleeting social media moments. What do you think will be the future of the postcard?